Haze-plagued Asean should learn from China

Haze-plagued Asean should learn from China

Forest fires have raged in Indonesia in recent weeks, resulting in choking haze in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and the southern Thai provinces of Yala and Songkhla. Bangkok last Monday also experienced thick smog, with IQAir AirVisual ranking it the third worst major city in the world for air pollution.

Across the region air quality readings have exceeded safety levels, and the United Nations estimates 10 million children are being put at risk. Businesses are seeing losses too, with the World Bank estimating that the haze in 2015, the worst for two decades, cost Indonesia up to 221 trillion rupiah (479 billion baht).

Millions of people worldwide took part in the largest climate protests in history last month. Given that this year's fires have released almost as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as the 2015 blazes, there is an opportunity for governments and businesses to respond to civil society and work more closely together to help solve large-scale environmental issues.

Pressure has mounted against the Indonesian government to end slash-and-burn land clearing practices that have resulted in the annual haze, and the environment and forestry ministry has promised to prosecute offending companies.

There is also a regional framework for action. The Regional Haze Action Plan was not only ratified by Indonesian President Joko Widodo in 2014, it was also unique among Asean policies in its operational focus, consisting of requirements for monitoring conditions and developing national-level mitigation plans and firefighting arrangements.

But more can be done. Asean could learn from China's government-led initiatives to combat air pollution.

Successful anti-smog measures in China demonstrate the importance of strong government commitment. China's national levels of PM2.5 -- dangerous fine particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres that can be inhaled -- decreased by about 30% from 2014 to 2018. Blue skies are an increasingly common sight in the major cities of Shanghai and Beijing.

These strides forward have been a direct result of state mandates to close down or upgrade coal-fired power stations and urge households and businesses to switch from coal to natural gas.

China's recent 2020 action plan for air pollution is galvanising companies, academics and state bodies to find effective solutions together. It is also identifying sources of smog down to the sector level and developing policies for the energy, manufacturing and transport industries.

More people are demanding responsible action to safeguard our environment. With its immense human and financial costs, the transboundary haze issue is one platform where governments and companies have the opportunity to share information, set standards and develop solutions together. China's response to its own similar problems shows that effective outcomes are possible.

Suwatchai Songwanich is the CEO of Bangkok Bank (China). For more columns in this series please visit www.bangkokbank.com

Suwatchai Songwanich

CEO of Bangkok Bank (China)

Suwatchai Songwanich is the CEO of Bangkok Bank (China).

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